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This is one of a series
of brief articles on how to respond effectively
to annoying social behavior. An effective response occurs
when you get your
met well enough, and both people feel
This article offers useful responses to
the behavior of someone you experience as
It assumes you're familiar with...
Depression affects millions of ordinary
adults and kids. It ranges from mild ("a blue mood")
to "clinical," and temporary to chronic. When it
affects persons you care about or depend on, it can
be hard to know how to respond to them. Reflect for
a moment - how do you usually react to someone who
seems unusually "down," discouraged, apathetic,
and/or sad? If their mood makes you uncomfortable,
do you know why?
A common reaction is to try to cheer the person up."
("Hey - look at the bright side!"). Another is to
chide the person - "You know there are millions of
people way worse off than you" (implication - so you
shouldn't feel what you're feeling). Another
reaction is - "If this keeps up, you ought to
see a shrink" (and take feel-better medication).
Over-busy or frustrated parents can sternly demand
"You put on a happy face right now, young man /
lady!" (implication - you're wrong or bad for
feeling what you're feeling). Still others try to
kid the depressed person - "Look, big chief Black
Cloud has come to eat with us!" These responses are
inherently disrespectful and unempathic, however
Recall the last time you felt significantly
depressed. How did people react to you? How did you
feel about that? What did you need from them? Did
you get it? Did you feel there was "something wrong"
with you that you had to "get over"? Our wounded,
feel-good society and media urges us all to be happy
and excited about life, and seek quick fixes for
After studying human behavior as a family-systems
36 years, I propose that...
much of what is
diagnosed as "depression" is really healthy
grief which needs empathic support to run its natural
- specially chronic and "clinical" - is usually
a sign of being
ruled by a
premises are true, then "normal" responses like
those above are inappropriate, disrespectful, and
more about having the responder feel better.
This brief video offers perspective. It mentions
eight self-improovement loesso0ns in this Web
site - I've reduced that to seven.
A Better Way
A first step is to honestly assess howyou
feel around a "depressed person," and identify what
you need. Do you feel "uncomfortable'
and/or obligated to "fix" the other person (restore
happiness)? If so, that's your need, not
necessarily theirs. A better idea is to ask yourself
what s/he needs from you without assuming.
Is "Depression" Really Grief?
Avoid feeling responsible for the person's
feelings and making her / him "feel better." Try
out the idea that
emotions and moods - including depression - are helpful
pointers to current needs.
and symptoms of healthy grief in
Lesson 3, and accept that
mourning symptoms (e.g. apathy,
sadness, low appetite, isolating, and
similar to common signs of depression.
Respectfully affirm what the person seems to be
assuming it's "depression." That can
"You seem pretty sad / down / blue / low /
glum / unhappy." A neutral observation
(statement) is better than a question here
because it doesn't "lead" the other person.
to see how s/he responds.
the word "depressed," because it's
suggestive and apt to program you both to make
assumptions that hinder filling your respective
the person to say more about how s/he's feeling,
to sense whether its the sadness phase of
healthy grief. Be alert to any major recent
(losses?) in the person's life.
Option - ask about
Gauge whether the person needs to vent about
something. If so,
listening empathically without trying to "fix" problems is often a kind
gift - specially with kids. Sometimes,
silent companionship is enough.
person if s/he might be grieving.
Be prepared for "I don't know" or "No." Stay
aware that grief is widely misunderstood and
discouraged in our country, which biases us
against admitting we and others are mourning. If
s/he seems interested, refer her or him to http://sfhelp.org/grief/basics.htm.
Avoid (a) talking about yourself, and (b)
suggesting anti-depressant medication. It may reduce
local symptoms, but doesn't touch the underlying
primary needs causing them. Option -
consider suggesting a local therapist who
specializes in healthy grieving, to evaluate
whether normal or incomplete mourning is causing
or contributing to the symptoms.
person what s/he needs from you. Be
prepared for "I don't know," "Nothing," or "Just
some space." (to be alone). Stay aware of the
comforting power of nonverbal affirmations - a
caress, hug, and warm eye contact and nodding.
options for supporting a griever, and apply
them as appropriate.
If you conclude that the "depressed" person is
not grieving, then assess whether s/he is
controlled locally or chronically by a
false self - specially if the depression lasts long or recurs.
Assess this with
As you do, check to see if
you may be wounded also! If so, make
freeing your true Self a high personal priority.
feel the person's "depression" may indicate psychological wounds, see
this for response options.
This is one of a series of brief
Lesson-2 articles suggesting
effective ways to respond to common unpleasant social
behaviors. This article offers three options to
respond to a "significantly depressed" person. The options are
based on the possibility that (a) the depression is
and/or (b) a symptom of psychological
wounds. Each of these merits different responses to the